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10 Of The Greatest Pranks Pulled Off By US Presidents

by E.M. Caris
fact checked by Micah Duke

We’ve all seen the “before” and “after” pictures of presidents, and we know how stressful the job is. It takes a certain kind of stern, driven person to become head reptilian overlord (or “president,” to the uninformed). But behind the wrinkled facade there sometimes lies a heart made of whoopee cushions. It turns out US presidents loved pranks as much as anybody.

10Eisenhower Thought Potentially Starting A War Was Hilarious


Eisenhower was a serious man. He planned D-Day and warned us of the military-industrial complex. But he also had a great sense of humor, which almost ruined his career. During his first major assignment taking a caravan from coast to coast along the highways, he decided to pull a prank on the junior officers—“easterners,” as he called them. The plan was for them to be given “a taste of the authentic West.”

Eisenhower and his close friend Sereno Brett planned and launched a fake “Indian attack” in Wyoming. He staged a fake argument about the trouble in the area (an area actually known for attacks), put blanks in the guns, handed them to the men, and then sneaked out during the night to shout war cries and stage false fronts. They only considered their prank a success once they got the sentry on duty to fire the shotgun at them, which they found endlessly hilarious. In the morning, the shaken-up young soldier almost sent a report requesting reinforcements, but Eisenhower stopped him before he could do so.

9Andrew Jackson Was A Bit Of A Brute

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Andrew Jackson’s pranks were a little less . . . sophisticated than those of the other presidents. Early in his law career, Jackson attended a pleasant dinner at a local tavern. As a joke, he broke all the plates, shattered the glasses, split the table in two, and then lit it all on fire. Funny! Another time, he put a bit more thought into his joke. When Jackson was a young man, he was tasked with organizing a Christmas party. It was supposed to be an elegant affair, but the future president decided to invite the local prostitutes. Jackson found it hilarious, but the elite were incredibly offended, while the prostitutes were humiliated. Jackson ultimately apologized for his insensitive joke.

Perhaps emblematic of his personality is the fact that he was not able to take a joke. After a duel, he was once jokingly presented with a slab of bacon—a reference to Jackson’s reliance on Matthew Bacon’s Abridgement of the Law. Jackson didn’t get the joke and stared his opponent into icy submission.

8George H. W. Bush Impersonated An Attorney General


George H. W. Bush has spent his later years as an extreme skydiver, and his hobbies now also include mail fraud and impersonating a public official to prank his wife. Mrs. Bush found some dirty pictures on her computer due to one of her grandchildren looking at pornography. She was very upset, and when the former president found out about it, he decided to do something. That “something,” however, was not trying to find the actual culprit but to deceive his wife into thinking she was in trouble for searching obscene images.

Bush used official stationary from the state of Maine and wrote a letter to his wife as the Attorney General of Maine that read: “It has come to our attention that you have been using your computer to go on porn websites.” Bush then took it to the post office so it would be mailed with the correct postage and had his wife open it in front of everyone. She was not amused.

7Clinton Trashed The White House


The Clinton administration decided to play some fraternity-style pranks on the new Bush administration. They essentially destroyed the White House. Staffers, with the apparent consent of the President (when pressed, several Clinton administration officials confirmed they had played the pranks), ripped phone cords from the walls, left obscene voice mails, covered the desks in glue, and stole antiques.

Some of the pranks were actually quite funny, like when someone stole every letter “W” from the computer keyboards. Others were a lot less good-natured and actually quite bitter. Notes were affixed to cabinets that read “GET OUT” or “Hail to the Thief,” and stickers were put up displaying tasteful portraits of George Bush as a monkey. All-in-all, they did about $15,000 worth of damage.

The Clintons tried to defend themselves by saying all presidents played outgoing transition pranks. They cited Bush-Quayle bumper stickers they had found stuck to desks in 1993 as evidence. Eventually, they caved and admitted their mistakes, going so far as to call Dick Cheney and apologize.

6Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Drowning” Car


Lyndon B. Johnson probably pulled the most stunts of anyone on this list, and he most definitely pulled off the most provocative ones. Johnson was a complicated and troubled man. There is evidence he may have had some sexual issues, namely he loved to show off his penis. He would pee in the washbasin and wave his little Johnson at the women of the White House while exclaiming, “Jumbo had a real workout tonight.”

Despite this sexually aggressive behavior, Johnson did have one trick up his sleeve that was quite hilarious. It was a routine practical joke he would play on unsuspecting visitors to his ranch in Texas. He would retreat to his ranch for rest and relaxation when he needed to escape the pressure of being president. However, his idea of relaxation included terrifying other people.

During nice summer days, Johnson would take his friends and family for nice little tours around the property in a blue convertible. But as soon as he reached the steep incline that led to the lake, he’d begin to freak out and scream, “The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold!” as they rushed faster and faster to a liquid death. People would scream and try to jump out of the car, but to no avail. The president would let the car crash into the water only to start howling with laughter as it began to cruise along again. See, the president apparently was friends with James Bond’s R&D department and had an “Amphicar,” a car that could turn into a speedboat. He loved to share it with people, so long as those people got thoroughly terrified first.

5Calvin Coolidge Was A Strange Fellow


Coolidge was an odd man. He would literally go days without speaking a word, a trait that earned him the name “Silent Cal.” Coolidge, however, loved childish pranks. His favorite prank was buzzing for his aides (or the Secret Service) and hiding from them. He hoped to make them think he had been kidnapped. In all likelihood, his feet sticking out from under the curtain probably gave him away.

He once had his aide fill up a bucket half with water and half with yellow beans. He then told the aide to scrub the brown spots off the beans. Finally, after some time, another staffer came along and told the aide that the only way to get the spots off was with a knife. Another time, at a presidential breakfast with the Congress, the President poured some coffee and cream into a saucer and indicated to the crowd to do the same. Coolidge then leaned down and gave the saucer to his dog. The message was received by the embarrassed crowd.

4Abraham Lincoln Made A Man Cry


Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, protected the Union, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, suffered from horrible depression. Unbeknownst to most, though, he was an unrepentant jokester. We could just focus on his endless quips, but this article is about practical jokes. Early in his career, Lincoln had a debate with an opponent named Jesse Thomas. After Thomas gave his speech, Lincoln took the stage and decided simply to mimic his rival. Lincoln mocked his opponent’s voice, exaggerated his movements, and had the crowd in fits. It was such a good caricature that it made his rival cry.

Dick Taylor was another opponent of Lincoln to experience a practical joke during a speech. Taylor decried Lincoln’s “aristocratic” proclivities and extolled his own Spartan virtue. Lincoln sneaked on stage, pulled open Taylor’s vest, and exposed a shirt decorated with frills and a gold watch chain. Taylor was furious and challenged Lincoln to a duel. Lincoln was allowed to choose the weapons and chose “cavalry broadswords of the largest size.” The diminutive Taylor was not amused.

3John F. Kennedy Could Get Mean


John F. Kennedy had a good friend named Lem Billings. Billings went on a trip to France, met Greta Garbo, and became a bit full of himself. He went so far as to tell Kennedy that he and Garbo were “an item.” Kennedy decided he couldn’t let such boastful actions go unpunished and set up a dinner at the White House for himself, Jackie, Billings, and Garbo. Kennedy scheduled Garbo to arrive early and told her his scheme. She was to pretend she had never met Billings before.

When Billings showed up, beaming, he turned to enthusiastically greet his new love, but she only responded with an ice-cold, “I have never seen this man before.” For the better part of an hour, they sat around and had an awkward dinner, while Billings pleaded and desperately tried to remind Garbo of their time together. Garbo just regarded him as a bug buzzing about her head. Kennedy, the unrepentant prankster, even pretended to offer suggestions, asking Billings if he might have met a Greta Garbo double. It must have been an unreal experience for the man, and you have to wonder if he questioned his sanity.

2Franklin D. Roosevelt Made A Poop Joke On NBC


Franklin D. Roosevelt loved to pull pranks. He would pull childish ones and elaborate ones alike. For instance, during his physical therapy in Warm Springs, he would trick his therapist into falling backward into the water. One time, he told a Secret Service member to get on the roof of a farm. He then had the ladder removed and drove away waving at the stranded serviceman. However, Roosevelt’s best joke might have been one of the first prank calls in history.

A few White House correspondents formed a singing group. They were invited to appear on NBC. While they were on the program, Roosevelt called the show. He disguised his famous voice and told the host he wanted to offer the men a contract. When asked who he worked for, the president responded, “I’m the advertising manager for the Cascarets,” which was a famous laxative. At the next press meeting, the president revealed his joke by telling all of the other media personnel that the correspondents would need to resign, because they had a job singing on the “Cascaret Hour.”

1Truman’s Cheeky Prank


The buck may have stopped with Harry Truman, but conning a person into facing their phobia certainly did not. Truman was set to take a trip to South America, and a group of reporters were coming with him. One of them, Tony Vaccaro, was deathly afraid of needles and was very relieved that he did not have to get a painful yellow fever shot. When Truman found out about Vaccaro’s fear, he decided to have some fun.

Truman instructed a White House physician to tell Vaccaro that the policy had been changed, and the shots were no longer merely optional. Vaccaro began freaking out as he was essentially pushed into a clinic room while screaming, “I don’t believe in shots!” When Vaccaro entered the office, he saw a giant hypodermic needle, the size a veterinarian would use on a horse, filled with a sinister red fluid. Vaccaro was terrified but turned around anyway. He had a job to do, and if it meant getting stabbed in the buttocks with his worst nightmare, by God, he was going to do it. The “doctor” then entered and told Vaccaro, “This won’t hurt a bit, Tony.” Vaccaro immediately recognized the President’s voice. He felt immense relief and offered the priceless response (presumably while his pants were still down), “Mr. President, I do not usually greet Presidents of the United States from this position.”

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fact checked by Micah Duke